The Dirty Dozen: Australia’s biggest climate foes

Who are the 12 people doing the most to block action on climate change in Australia? With a new government in place, and Australia’s emissions stubbornly high, we name and shame a fresh Dirty Dozen …

 Who has been most responsible in recent times for preventing progress in the reduction of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions? The Dirty Dozen — which I originally named in 2006 and updated in 2009  — are the people who have most effectively denied the science of climate change, lied about its implications, lobbied to water down laws, or provided cover for weak policy.

They are doing most to help turn Australia from a reluctant leader into a proud laggard in responding to the most dire threat to the world’s future. Some are well-known — even if their links and tactics are not — while others do their dirty work behind the scenes. Here is my Dirty Dozen for 2014, in no particular order …

Chris Mitchell

Where to start with The Australian’s editor-in-chief? How about here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here or, if you can’t be bothered clicking on all of those, look here or here.

Just as his reporters repeatedly misrepresent the science of climate change and blacken the names of eminent scientists, so Mitchell’s opinion editors are always willing to turn over their pages to whatever disinformation is being peddled by the likes of Ian Plimer, Bob Carter and Bjorn Lomborg, plus blowhards like Maurice Newman and George Pell. Even the loopy Lord Christopher Monckton gets space.

Otherwise-good journalists at The Australian allow themselves to be sucked into Mitchell’s vortex of paranoia about all things green. At the heart of his relentless campaign of anti-science and debunking of measures to reduce Australia’s carbon emissions is a visceral hatred of environmentalism, especially the Australian Greens, whom he wants to ”destroy”.

In 2009 the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, the oil and gas lobby group, awarded Mitchell the JN Pierce Award for Media Excellence “for leading the newspaper’s coverage of climate change policy”, which proves that the greenhouse mafia does have a sense of humour. As a sign of his endurance, Mitchell’s is the only name to appear in all three Dirty Dozens.

Tony Abbott

What to say that everyone does not already know? Environmentalism was not around when his spiritual mentor was wielding his influence, but Bob Santamaria would have feared and hated it. His spirit lives on in the magazine he ran, News Weekly, which now reports on ”how the globalist powers are using environmental scares to achieve the same ends that the older socialists could not quite pull off”.

This is Abbott’s real opinion. He has never changed from the ex-seminarian who turned up at the University of Sydney as Santa’s bully boy, but if he ever wavered, his two closest mentors — George Pell (“the Greens are sweet camouflaged poison”) and John Howard (the “agnostic” who launched Ian Plimer’s latest piece of anti-science) — would soon return him to the straight and narrow.

Ian McNamara

For too long the presenter of ABC Radio’s Sunday morning program Australia All Over has flown under the radar. When not chatting about the weather in Nuriootpa, Macca’s huge cohort of two million listeners (enough to make other shock jocks weep) is prone to debunking climate science and ridiculing renewable energy. He draws in his salt-of-the-earth listeners with a kind of folksy bush wisdom that has little time for eggheads with PhDs in atmospheric physics. Periodically, listeners complain to the ABC about McNamara’s “pot shots“ at global warming and his penchant for inviting on his right-wing mates. If ABC management wants the definitive response to conservative politicians who complain that its coverage of climate change is biased (because it reports real science), it should point to Australia All Over. Macca beats Amanda Vanstone hands down as the ABC’s “right-wing Phillip Adams”.

But shouldn’t McNamara’s place among the Dirty Dozen be taken by Andrew Blot? Compared with McNamara’s numerous and impressionable listeners, Bolt’s 300,000 readers are beyond persuasion because they have already drunk the denier’s Kool-Aid. It’s true that Bolt’s impact has been multiplied by the activities of the keyboard militia of aggro deniers who fire off volleys of abuse to the “warmists” he rails against. However, most warmists now understand that the militia makes a lot of unpleasant noises but only fires blanks. The influence of Bolt on the landscape of climate denial has been exhausted.

Gina Rinehart

Climate science deniers arrange themselves on a spectrum of respectability. Those who don’t want to be seen to be swivel-eyed lunatics associate with Nigel Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation and critics like Roger Pielke Jr. (which is why Pielke hated being named by Foreign Policy as a top “skeptic”). At the other end are those like Gina Rinehart, who think Christopher Monckton is a man to be listened to. So she pays for the loopy Lord to come to Australia and thrusts him onto Notre Dame University to deliver the Lang Hancock Memorial Lecture.

Rinehart is every inch her father’s daughter. An implacable red-hater, Lang Hancock wrote ”capitalism means life — environmentalism means death”. To counter their lies one should “aim at their jugular vein”, which is presumably what Rinehart likes in Monckton when he put a quote from respected economist Ross Garnaut next to a giant swastika and said “Heil Hitler”.

Rinehart is a major funder of the Institute of Public Affairs, the primary conduit of denier talking points in Australia. The IPA’s 70th birthday party last year was a love-in for the nation’s most powerful climate deniers; Murdoch, Pell, Bolt, Rinehart, Abbott, all co-ordinated by IPA executive director (and former Rio Tinto employee) John Roskam.

Innes Willox

If the Minerals Council decided to replace a hard man (Mitch Hooke) with a persuader (Brendan Pearson), the Australian Industry Group has gone the other way, replacing Heather Ridout with Innes Willox. Willox has made himself into the enforcer of the greenhouse mafia, pushing the hardest line against measures to limit emissions. He is said to draw out the worst in other industry lobbyists, who breathe a sigh of relief when he leaves the room.

Willox was a well-liked journo and chief of staff at The Age who worked his way, via a PR job with Singapore Airlines, into being Alexander Downer’s chief of staff, leaving his former colleagues mystified. In last year’s election campaign he mimicked Tony Abbott’s “scrap the tax “crusade.

Ian Plimer

Plimer is the chief ideologist of climate denial in Australia. The geologist is too busy to have his ideas on climate science published in refereed journals, but his 2009 book Heaven & Earth sold 40,000 copies, a publishing success for right-wing Catholic boutique publisher Connor Court and a sign of the appetite for anti-science. Described as ”largely a collection of contrarian ideas and conspiracy theories that are rife in the blogosphere”, the tome sits on a scarily large number of bookshelves in Parliament House. Plimer is closely linked to the IPA and to the thoroughly nasty Heartland Institute and is close to Gina Rinehart, who has put him on the boards of some of her companies, including Roy Hill Holdings.

Plimer’s 2011 book — How to Get Expelled From School (launched by John Howard and mailed by the IPA to hundreds of schools) — listed 101 questions for sceptical students to ask their “warmist” teachers, i.e. those who respect science. The federal Department of Climate Change (abolished by Abbott) prepared a response that thoroughly debunked his claims in words a child can understand. How long before Environment Minister Greg Hunt is instructed to have this demolition of Plimer taken down? 

Martin Ferguson

The former Australian Council of Trade Unions president now says Prime Minister Tony Abbott is not going far enough in cracking down on unions. But if “the working class can kiss my arse”, he retains his old workerist loathing of environmentalism. As minister for resources and energy in the Rudd and Gillard governments he was dirty industry’s best friend in cabinet, fighting tooth and nail to protect the interests of “his” industries and carving out massive subsidies for the big polluters. And after lobbying from coal companies, Ferguson was responsible for intensifying police and ASIO spying on environmental groups.

In 2009, blogger Andrew Bolt urged Ferguson to come out of the climate sceptic “closet”. Post-parliament he is out and proud. He chairs an advisory board for APPEA, representing gas and oil companies, in which role he almost qualifies as a member of the greenhouse mafia. But as an anti-climate policy lobbyist perhaps Ferguson’s new role as executive in charge of natural resources at Kerry Stokes’ Seven Group Holdings matters more. Stokes now makes much more money from mining than from TV, principally through ownership of Caterpillar dealerships in Australia and China, supplying mining trucks to Rio Tinto, BHP and pretty much every other mining company in Australia and northern China. Seven Group Holdings’ CEO is Don Voelte, who was head-hunted last year from Woodside Petroleum, from which position he was a member of the previous Dirty Dozen.

Greg Hunt

“I don’t know about Tony Abbott, but that Mr Hunt seems like a nice man. He says the government believes in climate change and the Direct Action plan will work. That’s good enough for me.” Hunt built his political career arguing the need to tackle climate change. Hell, he even won a prize for a thesis advocating emissions trading. Now he serves as the baby-faced apologist for the Abbott government’s attack on climate policy.

Hunt is the man who gave the go-ahead for a huge new coal export facility at Abbot Point in Queensland. And he defends climate deniers. Last year he denied the influence of climate change on increased bushfire intensity by quoting Wikipedia. He got all indignant on BBC radio defending his Prime Minister’s record on climate change. When asked if he agreed with Abbott that climate science is “absolute crap”, he rebuked the interviewer for swearing at him.

In the Howard government Philip Ruddock, the small-l Liberal who served as immigration minister, prosecuted a policy of systematic cruelty towards asylum seekers. He turned into a guilt-wracked ghost before our eyes. His own daughter strongly rebuked him. Watch Greg’s face over the next three years. Be more worried if it doesn’t change.

Mitch Hooke

The Minerals Council of Australia is by far the largest fossil fuel lobby group, with $35 million to spend each year on keeping the government friendly or scared. Although Hooke has recently stepped down as chief executive of the MCA, in his 12 years at the helm he leaves such a trail of devastation through climate policy in Australia that his influence will live on. For the mining companies that paid his salary he was worth every cent.

Hooke likes to tell people he is a scientist (although if you cut through the bombast he comes across as a bit thick). It’s not his scientific training, however, that turned him into the big polluters’ most effective lobbyist, but his bullying style (though like most bullies, he goes to water when shirt-fronted). He was the perfect front man when the mining industry wanted to spend big destroying Labor’s mining tax and win massive concessions from the carbon price scheme. He was at home telling denialist shock jocks that scientific reports on climate change were “wholemeal sandal-wearing religious stuff”. The thing about Hooke is that, as a paid lobbyist, he doesn’t really believe any of it. Before he got the gig at the Minerals Council he used his talents to promote the interests of big food and agribusiness. Expect him to pop up as some kind of environmentalist next.

Danny Price

When Coalition ministers are asked to name an economist who believes their Direct Action plan to be better than a carbon price, the only one they can come up with is “Danny Price”. A “baseline-and-credit guy” who wants to replicate Bob Carr’s Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme, the director of consulting firm Frontier Economics doesn’t like emissions trading. So it’s no surprise Hunt has appointed him to chair the committee tasked with making Direct Action work. Price seems to be serious about effective policy (for example, he would like to see the Renewable Energy Target expanded), but to date his role has been to provide cover for the Coalition. If he doesn’t get his way in a committee stacked with greenhouse mafia types, what would he do?

Price also provides cover for Nick Xenophon. In 2009, keen to differentiate himself from Labor and the Greens, Xenophon teamed up with the Coalition to commission Price to come up with an alternative to the emissions trading scheme. For Xenophon, populism always trumps good policy, and now he is on a belligerent anti-wind farm crusade. Price too criticises wind farms; the pair get plaudits from shadowy anti-wind front groups.

Maurice Newman

The former stockbroker and ABC chair now oversees the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council. He has recently (courtesy of Chris Mitchell) described the mass of evidence for human-induced climate change as “scientific delusion”. The scientific establishment is engaged in “mass psychology” because it is “intent on exploiting the masses and extracting more money”. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “resorts to dishonesty and deceit” and promotes “the religion behind the climate crusade”. Phew!

Newman insists there are “credible” scientists who say the earth is cooling rather than warming. He declares that unless someone soon puts a stop to this “climate change madness”, most of us will “descend to serfdom”. He is one the few to have the ear of the PM’s gatekeeper, Peta Credlin. Get ready for Ian Plimer, on Newman’s advice, to be appointed Australia’s next chief scientist.

Sam Walsh

As the president of Scouts Australia (Western Australian branch) we might expect Sam Walsh to apply its motto “Be Prepared” to a world entering a new climate. But the CEO of mining giant Rio Tinto blithely pushes ahead with huge new coal mines. Walsh has been working hard at stopping Australia cutting its emissions for a long time. As the chief of Rio’s iron ore division he was there taking notes in 2004 at the secret meeting of big polluters called by John Howard to work out ways of screwing the renewables industry (page 140). The PM told the select group he was looking for their advice on how to squash renewables while still making out the government was taking climate change seriously.

Rio Tinto has a long and unrepentant history of environmental destruction, human rights violations, exploitation of workers and tax dodging (as I have written elsewhere). In 2008, Norway’s government decided to divest itself of around $1 billion of shares in Rio citing concern over severe environmental damages from its Grasberg mine in West Papua. The Norwegian finance minister accused the company of “grossly unethical conduct”.

While projecting a public image of a caring mining company Rio pays industry lobby groups to do the dirty work. Sam Walsh does not say much in public about global warming. He lets the company’s head of energy, Harry Kenyon-Slaney, put the company view — it’s time to forget “idealist discussions” about climate change, he said recently, because coal is here to stay.

So there they are — a Dirty Dozen for 2014.

I’ve never been a fan of the great man view of history, but neither is it credible to focus solely on depersonalised institutions while ignoring the influence of powerful individuals. Some of those mentioned in my Dirty Dozen are ciphers who represent their employers’ stance (such as Willox, Hooke and Walsh). Others have a defining influence on their institution’s positions — Tony Abbott on the federal Liberal Party, Chris Mitchell on The Australian, and Gina Rinehart who cannot be separated from her companies. These people have a special culpability.

In 50 years’ time, as the world swelters, crops fail, bushfires rage and extreme weather causes devastation around the globe, the Dirty Dozen are the people who should be remembered for their role in allowing it to happen. Perhaps primary schools could bury this list in time capsules to be excavated in 2100, just so future generations will not forget what they did.


Published by Crikey 15-16 April 2014


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© Copyright Clive Hamilton